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My last blog . . . Last day in Jamaica, for now anyway. Bittersweet. I miss home, but have had such a rich and rewarding experience here that it will be hard to leave in the morning!

It has been challenging at times, and looking back it seems that the first and last weeks were the toughest. The first week, of course, because I was getting used to how to treat patients in this medical system. The last partly because I was, by that time, feeling homesick. The other difficulty was brought on by a discussion I had the end of the week prior with Dr. Ramos and I had some realizations about things I had been experiencing that for a while made me feel somewhat depressed. I had grown used to patients and their parents answering everything I said with “Yes Miss.” I tried my best to give education and explanations at the end of each visit and always ended with, “Do you have any questions?” Very rarely would anyone actually ask a question, and most times they would respond with a little giggle or chuckle, followed by “No.” I told this to Dr. Ramos, and he replied, “Well how can they ask a question when they didn’t understand anything you just said.” Excellent point. Even at home, at times it is difficult to explain to a parent what is going on with their child in terms they fully understand, trying to find the words in lay terms while trying to provide necessary education. But here in Jamaica, one also has to deal with a language barrier. Even though I have gotten better at understanding the mix of usually broken English and Patwa that most people speak, I also ask them when I don’t understand. Could they repeat, or tell me in a different way. But rarely would a parent ask me to do the same. I shouldn’t have assumed they could understand my English. I came to realize that just because they did not have questions or nodded their heads and said, “Yes Miss,” in a lot of cases it probably had nothing to do with whether they actually understood or not. Here what a doctor says goes, and most Jamaicans would never speak up to say they couldn’t understand me. There is also the aspect that it seems that a lot of time the people just don’t listen to what you say. I would be asked a question, and then as I proceeded to answer they would either start talking about something else, or a few times get up to leave the office. Anyway, after I realized all this about 3 weeks into my time here, I felt a bit helpless, wondered how much good I had been doing besides just writing a prescription when needed. When a mother comes in with her baby worried because that baby is having reflux (that is not in need of medication), the whole key is helping her to understand what is happening to her baby and why and when it will get better. That is whole idea of reassurance for me, education is the biggest part of it, knowing what is “normal” and what is cause for concern. But after a couple days, I just accepted that this is part of learning and part of working in an unfamiliar culture. It has been an amazing learning opportunity. I hope I can take this experience and become a better listener and a better educator for all people. It has been a very important lesson for me.

Overall, I hope that this whole experience will make me a better clinician in all aspects, as well as improve my cultural competence. I am truly grateful for the opportunity!

I encourage other physicians and health professionals to take advantage of this opportunity as well. The Issa Trust Foundation has room for 2 physicians here all year round! It would so wonderful if there were always pediatrians here, a consistent presence to serve the children here so they receive appropriate follow-up and care. You will be challenged, you will have fun, and you will leave feeling rewarded. The accommodations here are out of this world! You will have a lot of time for fun and relaxation in return for all the hard work you do during the week. Please, take advantage of this exciting opportunity to become a better clinician while helping the children of St. Mary and Portland!

So a HUGE thank you to everyone at the Issa Trust Foundation, all the many physicians and nurses I had the pleasure of working with here in Jamaica, and to my home program for allowing me the time to have this experience! I plan on coming back soon . . .
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I’ve just finished my 3rd week here in Jamaica, and it was the busiest yet! Post Maria had so many Pedi patients, I saw 30 on Tuesday, and even had to give 5 extra back to A&E! It was an exhausting week, but full of so much great learning and good challenges.

One thing I’ve had to get used to here is that I am always “Dr. Westman,” not “Amy,” at least at the hospital. I come from a laid back California Pediatrics program where I am on a first name basis with everyone in my program, from interns to attendings and administrators. But here in Jamaica, it is more formal. A doctor is always “Dr. . .” and a nurse is always “Nurse . . .” The other doctors and even the interns introduce themselves as “Dr . . .” and I’ve noticed that even when they drop the doctor part, others refer to them by their last name only.  So now I’ve grown used to introducing myself as Dr. Westman, but it still feels strangely formal!

Another things that just goes with the territory here, and I presume for all global health rotations or missions, is that you just need to relax and go with the flow. Things are not a tightly regimented and scheduled here as in America, but everything gets taken care of in the end. The patients show up at 8am and register first come, first serve, but will wait all day to be seen, no appointment times. You, as a volunteer here, will always have someone to drive you to and from the hospitals and clinics, but it may not be the same person and they may not pick you up at the expected time. But you will get there and back safely! The doctors mentioned in the orientation packets may not be around, but there is always someone there to help with any questions. Even if there aren’t many clinic patients one day (my wide range has been from 2 to 30, but on average about 20), you can always find other ways to help out like seeing patients in A&E. Just go with the flow, and everything will work out. One of the big things I’ve learned in my time here!

One piece of advice for anyone else coming here to work, is to really brush up on your IV placement and blood drawing skills if its not one of your strongest areas. I have never really been very good at placing IVs in small children. While my home program of course has requirements and time built into our training so that we learn how to do this, there has never been much pressure to get really good at it, since there is always a nurse or phlebotomist to do these things for you. Since I don’t naturally love putting in IVs like some other residents, I haven’t perfected the skill. In Jamaica, however, the doctors draw all of the blood and place all the IVs, so I’ve actually gotten much better over these past few weeks by necessity! I was also surprised to learn, that the GPs here, although I knew they saw all ages, actually do some surgeries as well. One doctor at Port Maria said he will do “simple” procedures like appendectomies or inguinal hernia repairs himself, but prefers to only assist on more difficult operations like a biliary atresia repair. He has of course received specific training in surgery as part of his medical training, but I was impressed. At least I can do my own I&Ds and laceration repairs!

For my last comment this week, I wanted to mention every Jamaican’s apparent love for and confidence in diphenhydramine, or DPH elixir as its called here. Anytime a child has a cold, the parents demand DPH elixir. When I ask if it helps, they will either say, “I don’t know, you’re the doctor,” or they will admit that it isn’t helping the child’s cold symptoms, but they still ask for it. Many parents here really want you to give them a medicine for their child even if its just a virus, and are not as much into supportive care like bulb syringes and humidifiers, partly because they do not have access or the funds for such things. I have come to appreciate the usefulness of diphenhydramine at home, great for allergie reactions, nausea, and insomnia, but never though of using it for a cold! I do suppose it is safer than most “cold medicine” mixtures that many used to give their kids.

Oh, by the way, I’m still trying to find out what is actually in the “black dressing!” I know it is not as widely used any longer here in Jamaica, but I’m still curious. A google search didn’t help very much, and I keep asking every doctor and nurse I come into contact with, but no one yet has been able to tell me what’s in it! It just keeps me interested, but I think I might have to just let this one go!
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To introduce myself, I am Amy Westman, pediatric resident from Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California. I am now 2 weeks into my month long rotation here in Jamaica! I decided to come here for my global health rotation because a couple of residents from my program had already some here and had told me what a great experience it had been for them. Hi Thao and Chung!

I am having a great time here and learning a lot! What a 2 weeks it has been! Its been hard coming from working in the American medical system to working here in the Jamaican medical system, but it is getting easier everyday. I’ve had the opportunity to see many patients and work with many wonderful physicians here. Our goals as physicians both here in Jamaica and back in America are the same, to do what is best for our patients, we just get there in different ways sometimes.

My weeks begin at Port Maria Hospital in the clinic area. Here generally kids that have shown up for regular clinic that day get funneled to me, or are sent from A&E (the ED), lots of general complaints. The first patient the A&E doc sent me was a consult to rule out leishmaniasis. What do I know about leishmaniasis? I work in California! So I said, “Give me  a minute,” got out my atlas of tropical diseases, and read up quickly. Then I was able to say with some certainty that the child did not have leishmaniasis. But that’s how a lot of my experiences here have been, learning through doing and seeing. I have seen the typical childhood problems that I see so often at home: asthma, eczema, otitis, pharyngitis, and cellulitis. I have also seen things that I have never seen at home, but now have seen several times and feel confident in my diagnosis, such as miliaria crystallina. So many babies at their well checks have developed it here, and at first I wasn’t sure what I was seeing, but after looking it up on the internet (at night after clinic – no wifi or computers there) and seeing it over and over again, I can now confidently tell parents what it is and offer reassurance.

I am also visiting Annotto Bay Hospital in the middle of my weeks. There I see patients and participate in ward rounds, as well as being in the pediatric clinic where I see kids with problems that are followed by the pediatrician there, Dr. Ramos, and the physicians working there with pediatric experience. More asthma, anemia, and some follow-ups post discharge from the hospital. On the inpatient side the majority of the patients I’ve seen have been neonates with suspected sepsis or risk factors. Since it is very difficult to get cultures here (they must be sent to Kingston and most of the time never make it there due to transportation problems or make it there too late to be useful for making treatment decisions), most babies with any suspicion, those who would bet a 48 hours rule out in the states, get a full 5 day course of IV antibiotics and then are sent home on orals.

On Fridays I make the 2+ hour ride (thanks meclizine!) to Port Anotonio Hospital in the parish of Portland, where I visit the wards and then go to clinic. Here they do not have a pediatrician at all, but the general physicians round on the patients on the ward.

In general, most physicians here have been very helpful in offering assistance with navigating the health system here. Where a specialist is available, what days they have clinic, etc. I always have a lot of questions!

There are so many interesting cultural things to be learned as well. I quickly heard about black dressing, which is tar based (but I’m still not sure of its other components), an all purpose salve for infections and the like. It took me a while to figure out what the mothers were talking about when they said the baby had “coal” (not sure how they spell it!) in his emesis or diarrhea, now I think they mean mucus. I ask my patient’s parents a lot of questions about things like this as you can learn so much from them about attitudes toward health and nutrition and home remedies used.

When you have off time, which is every night and the weekends, it is wonderful to be at Tower Isle where you always have great food and entertainment, and can always relax on the beach and read a book, as I so often do after work. There are so many opportunities for trips outside the resort if you wish to join them. It has taken me a while to get used to people serving me everything and always asking me if I need anything here at the resort, but its a nice time to relax and enjoy you’re time off. A sincere thanks to the Issa Trust Foundation and Couples for giving me this opportunity to come and serve the children of Jamaica and learn so much from the people and my patients here! It has been amazing thus far, and I am so looking forward to my next 2 weeks with the adventures and learning opportunities they present.

Stayed tuned .  .  .
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